25 July 2007

Typing Monkey

I subscribe to The New Yorker, in part due to a clerical mistake.

Nonetheless, they might consider this a plug. They do carry some well-written articles, including for example this week's "Letter from Jerusalem" by David Remnick.

When I first open a copy of TNY, though, I open it to the back page, and check out the cartoon caption contest. It reminds me of a classic Seinfeld episode in which Elaine is ticked off that the cartoons have become incomprehensible. Still....

Each week there are three panels: the winner of one contest, three finalists for another, and a fresh challenge. This week's winner is Sandy Sommer, of St. Louis, Mo. She submitted a caption to a drawing that shows a bird, with very few feathers indeed, and a rather tight-looking bathing suit. The bird is strutting proudly about on the limb of a tree, and two bird-watchers (perhaps a married couple) stand below the limb, looking through their guide books.

Ms Sommer's caption: "It's a thongbird."

The second panel shows an implausibly large wave arising out of a backyard swimming pool. A husband and wife are both about to be overwhelmed -- or, at the minimum, severely wettened. The wife looks unconcerned though and is saying something to her husband.

The three finalists each put words in her mouth as folows:

It's time that child went on a diet.
I told you this house was too close to the moon.
Cowabunga, dear.


That brings us to the fresh one, this week's contest. It's a bit more complicated than its precursors. We see two rooms in a home, a kitchen and a living room. In the kitchen we see an unshaven man, with cans and an opened bag in front of him (beer and potato chips most likely). There's also a dog, peering inquisitively at the man, who is saying something in response to that look.

Meanwhile, in the living room, a woman has written mathematical/chemical formulae on a blackboard, and is explaining her work to ... the family cat. The cat is seated at a stool, and appears to be following that exposition.

So we have the trite opposition of male (canine) on one hand, female (feline) on the other. We have laziness in the former case and industriousness in the latter. I guess. No good caption comes to mind.

I preferred last week's new contest -- we'll learn next week, I expect, who the finalists are for that. Last week's drawing showed a monkey who had just been typing away -- at an old-style typewriter mind you, not a computer's keyboard. A scientist (we can tell he's a scientist because he's wearing a lab coat) is looking at a page apparently just taken from the monkey, and is speaking....

So what's the caption?

There's an old statistician's thought experiment about a thousand monkeys typing away until they come up with the complete text of Hamlet (or, name your favorite Shakespeare play here -- or, the Complete Works of). I infer that the drawing is meant to suggest that much to us, anyway.

My own proposed caption for that one would be, "No, Hamlet and Ophelia can't live happily ever after. Try again."

We'll see how it goes.

In blogger business today, I'd like to mention that the philosopher Matthew McGrath has honored our humble blog with a comment. You'll find it below my May 22d entry. I had had some fun at the expense of a thought-experiment in a book of his, about "sake realism." He assures me that, yes, the humor of that example was intentional.

Glad to hear it, and I'm glad to have such distinguished readers.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.